Seattle Cosmic Game Night

(Saturday, 13 May 2000)

Lemma Tell Ya About a Really Annoying Game

Greetings to all--

Another successful Seattle Cosmic night was had last Saturday. Present were 8 people: Ron and Marty Hale-Evans, Naomi Finkelstein, Mark Purtill, Paul Unwin, John Braley, Peter Schultz, and a new player, Meredith Wilson (Marty's sister and our next-door neighbour).

I'll keep the newsletter short this week, and I won't philosophise (much), I promise.

We started out the evening with a Lemma, a rule-making game like Nomic, Democrazy, or Fluxx. Lemma begins extremely freeform, and players unilaterally enact rules in an attempt to make it impossible for their opponents to play, then make a move on a vinyl game board with clear Lucite pieces of different colours to illustrate the rule. Rules enacted may not contradict previous rules.

The players included me, Paul, John, Peter, Mark, and Naomi. Marty hates Lemma, so she sat it out, and it took so long for turns to roll around the table that she and Naomi played Fluxx while they were waiting. (Meredith hadn't shown up yet.)

Opinion is divided on whether the Lemma game was successful. It started out sedately, with players creating rules stating that a Lemma piece must be bisected by a line on the game board, that it must overlap a field of its own colour, and so on. Here's a photo from early in the game, with Paul acting as Rule Scribe. It can be seen unmistakably that I do in fact have a head, although Douglas Harding, the primary advocate of the theory espoused at www.headless.org, has held out against much stronger evidence than this. I guess my faith is weak...

The rules of Lemma gradually grew more constrictive until, by the time it rolled around to my second turn, I couldn't place any tokens on the board. Instead I made a rule that you could take multiple tokens OFF the board, and grabbed all the tokens. O wot fun!

The rules were still such that no new pieces could be placed on the board, so Mark made a rule that a valid action could consist of folding the board in half, and did so. Then Peter blew things wide open by stating that a valid move could consist of doing anything non-destructive to the board -- and slammed the door shut again by sitting on the board.

Pandemonium broke loose. No one wanted to reach under Peter's ass to get the board. There was some debate as to whether it could be said Peter's move was non-destructive, since he creased the board. Peter argued that he was the in fact the winner, since no one else could play, and argued the board would be no worse for wear in a week when the creases smoothed out and he would claim his prize then. People pointed out they COULD play, but didn't want to reach under Peter's ass to do so. I pointed out that if everyone else didn't want to stick their hands under Peter's ass, I would shout at the board as my non-destructive action. Eventually we drifted into other conversations, with no clear winner for Lemma (but see below).....

After things settled down a bit, we played Paul's new copy of Wizard, an American edition of a card game of which Paul had previously played a German version (called Zauber, I guess? that's the name of the equivalent card to the Wizard, according to Paul). The same people played Wizard as played Lemma.

I'm not a big card game player, but as I understand it, Wizard is a fairly traditional trick-taking game with a few twists. The German edition had suits consisting of Trolls and other imaginary creatures, but Paul's deck used the traditional hearts, spades, clubs, and diamonds, with two extra types of cards, the Wizard and the Jester. At the beginning of each hand, a card is turned over to show a trump suit, and players bid on how many tricks they will take that hand. The first Wizard card played automatically takes the trick, and when a player plays a Jester, they cannot under any circumstances take the trick (since you're shooting for an exact number of tricks, this can be useful if you're at or near that number).

Here's Mark playing Wizard, with Peter's arm making an appearance:

John took a looooong time to make his moves, agonising over them and complaining how hard his decisions were -- then won the game handily. It was Acquire all over again.

Here's Peter fidgeting during one of John's long turns. Peter has the Device, the same extensible magnetic screwdriver that Paul annoyed everyone with as Zilch the week before...

Here's a shot of one trick in the game showing both of the special cards (Wizard and Jester). As you can see, the Queen is a little fancy, but they are otherwise regular American playing cards:

For John's trouble, he was awarded a copy of Head Off Stress by Douglas Harding, a self-help book by the having-no-head guy! John didn't seem too amused. Oh, well. Better prizes next time!

Meredith showed up around midnight during the last hand of Wizard, and decided she'd play Democrazy with us even though she was really tired:

I won't explain Democrazy again, but here's a better shot of the layout, with the permanent blue law cards laid out in a row and a temporary red law up for a vote:

The Space Slug left its nest in the Cosmic Warp and visited our game of Democrazy:

In the end, Marty (who was playing this time) was able to best suss out which chips were going to be most valuable, and with the help of the law stating that to your normal points you added the points of the player on your left, she won the game.

People were disappointed that there were no really good prizes handed out, since there was no clear winner for Lemma and Marty herself had won Democrazy, so we decided to give Peter a booby prize for making his ass the primary focus of Lemma. The booby prize consisted of a "playset" Marty had compiled from Archie McPhee miscellanea, and which she described as "the World's Largest Horse, the peasants who have to clean up after it, and its horsefly".

Here's Peter expressing his opinion of the prize, followed by a close-up of the prize itself:

Womp womp wommmmmpppp.... That's it for this week, girls and boys. This Saturday, the 20th, is a Cosmic Encounter week, since we alternate Cosmic and non-Cosmic weeks. I'm sure we'll also fit in some other game or two. See you then!



Saturday, 20 May 2000, 8:00 P.M. at Ron and Marty's in Kent.

Remember, game nights at Ron and Marty's are every Saturday at 8pm. Come play for fun and FABULOUS PRIZES! Please bring a snack or drink (cookies, chips, soda, juice, etc.).

POSTSCRIPT: Wizard? Oh Hell!

Apparently Wizard is an Oh Hell variant. I found the following under "Oh Hell" on page 261 of The New Games Treasury by Merilyn Simonds Mohr (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997):

A commercial variant of Oh Hell called Wizard adds a little more strategy to the game. The Wizard deck is like a conventional 52-card deck with four Jesters and four Wizards added. (You can duplicate this by borrowing two Jokers and four Aces from another deck with the same back pattern. Mark the faces of the Aces with a W to indicate that they are Wizards.

The book then goes on to detail the extra Wizard rules, exactly as we played them. The Oh Hell entry also has a strategy section:

Strategy: The dealer always has an advantage, since he bids last. If he is unsure how many tricks he can win, it is a good strategy to make the bid even, because he may then get the cooperation of other players who want to make their bids.

If the bid is even, the game is simply a matter of distributing the tricks properly amongst the players, and it is to everyone's advantage to see that this happens. If the bid is over or under, the game becomes competitive. If the hand is overbid, players are vying with each other for the tricks because there aren't enough to go around. If the hand is underbid, players are trying not to take tricks: someone will be stuck with the extras.

In general, it is safer to lose tricks than to win them, so underbidding is safer than overbidding, especially with four or more cards. It is best to hold both high and low cards in a suit; several middle cards are unlikely to win many tricks.

Just thought you'd like to know.


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